Rachel Paredes Paras

What is your favorite public health experience and why?

“My favorite public health experiences are those found at the intersection of the arts and public health. Through work, we’ve been able to commission local artists to create water promotion videos and photograph local residents for a community-informed water campaign featured on billboard and bus stops, for example. Cross your fingers, too, for a Pilipinx healthy recipe book with recipes created by a Pinay herbalist, healer and photographer by her, too!”

What is your proudest public health moment and why?

“I’m proud of my colleagues of the Public Health Department’s Nutrition Services program of the Community Health Services Division in Alameda County. Our team is social justice oriented and centers community voice and choice. Two of our programs the Cooking for Health Academy (C4HA) and the Active Transportation Program have been nationally recognized by NACCHO as a model and promising practice, respectively, which means peer reviewed and respected. I had the honor of writing and submitting the applications and it’s the team and the community who ultimately needs to be recognized for the community informed and community driven programs that demonstrate increased fruit and vegetable consumption because of culturally relevant curriculum for example, and safer streets around school communities because of youth leaders and adult allies.”

Do What Moves You Community-Driven Campaign

What has been your most challenging public health experience and why?

“One of the most challenging public health experiences I’ve had was COVID-19 deployment. Many of my colleagues were uprooted from their regular positions to respond to crises. We were stressed, lives were lost, disease, dis-ease and death were all around us. It took focused effort and calm to take a moment to step back and center in order to address the layers of individual, family and community needs on multiple levels. Health disparities were magnified. It was the colleagues who stepped up to lead in tumultuous times, the bi/multilingual team mates who got trained in contract tracing, the community based organizations who rallied for their neighbors, and the collective resilience that provided strength and structure to move through the surges.”

Why do you care about public health?

“Looking back at my ancestors, they were community and public health oriented in their own right as the barangay or neighborhood captain, as an insurance sales representative, as a teacher, as a caregiver. My parents were practicing physicians in the Philippines and both had careers in clinical and non-clinical settings. As someone who is a public servant and part of the system, I have deep community care, responsibility and accountability to raise awareness, provide equitable access, and make the system work for the people, for my neighbors, for my community and my family.”

What is your public health story?

“It’s a colorful story and circuitous route! My first job out of college with a sociology degree was as a representative for a temporary employment agency. I then worked as a benefits specialist for a hospital in the south bay. At both of these jobs, people always asked me to help them with their resumes or find jobs especially young people. I decided to apply to grad school to get specialized in nonprofit administration as I thought I’d start a youth development non-profit agency. My public administration emphasis was in intergovernmental management which landed me internships in local, state and federal agencies working in southern California, to Los Angeles and Sacramento, to Washington D.C. What a ride! Long story short, I spent a considerable number of years in the youth development field eventually becoming the executive director of a girls serving agency in San Francisco. I was personally pulled towards working in my own backyard, so to speak, and with community and youth development in my back pocket, I began working on the community services team of the Nutrition Services program in Alameda County. One of my memorable experiences was working on the Food to Families program with pregnant and parenting mothers in West Oakland and Ashland. I also became the associate program director of the Reach Ashland Youth Center of the county’s health care services agency and returned to Nutrition Services as the associate director where I continue to oversee youth and community based nutrition education and active communities programs, wellness initiatives, and engage in our anti-racist and social justice learnings and practices.”

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